COVINGTON, Ga. – Members of the Covington city council voted to reject the proposed impact fee ordinance in a 4-3 vote.
The vote comes following a second reading of the ordinance at Monday’s meeting. The ordinance was set to allow the fees to be set at the highest rate possible under Georgia law.
Helping the city along with city attorney Frank Turner Jr. is Bill Ross from the consulting firm Ross and Associates out of Atlanta. In the ordinance, Ross states that impact fees can be appealed by the city manager and by de facto, the council, and may be waived during certain circumstances. It would be up to the discretion of the council.
Before a motion was made, Mayor pro-tem Anthony Henderson said that may be in the best interest of council to push back the vote for impact fees and having a work session in between to further discuss the matter.
Councilwoman Susie Keck voiced why she believes it is urgent that the council approves the impact fees.
“We wouldn’t have to go with the highest [impact fees] if we had looked at this prior to all this growth, but now we’re behind the eight ball,” Keck said. “I’m telling you, if we don’t do something now, we’re gonna be in serious trouble in five years.”
Keck then made a motion to approve the impact fee ordinance as presented with an effective date of Jan. 1. This was seconded by councilwoman Charika Davis.
Henderson then again reiterated his stance before the vote.
“I’m in favor of impact fees, but I think we need more discussion, cause it’s obvious that [the] public didn’t get as much input as far as on their fees,” Henderson said.
The vote went 3-3 with Keck, Davis and councilwoman Fleeta Baggett voting for and Henderson, councilman Kenneth Morgan and councilman Don Floyd voting against.
Mayor Steve Horton made the deciding vote, voting “no” to break the tie.
“I’m gonna vote no,” Horton said. “I’m gonna qualify that and say I’d like to see it on the next agenda for the December 11th [meeting]. That will allow anybody that wants to converse with their council members by then to do so.”
But with this being the second reading, Turner reminded Horton that this would have to restart the process with two public hearings before any action could be made.
When Keck brought up the impact fee discussion again during board comments, Horton gave clarification on why he decided to vote against the impact fee ordinance.
“I want you to understand, I’m not against the impact fees, I’m not against the max impact fees,” Horton said. “I felt like a curve was slowed here tonight because I mean, we’ve had these discussions before tonight, and then we get in here and I thought everybody was understanding. But, when it came down to the vote, it was like there was misunderstanding about whether everybody had public comments or input or whether what was in the ordinance or whether or not the max fees were in there or not. I wasn’t going to be the guy that voted in the middle of dissension for something.”
After some further discussion, both Turner and Ross agreed that the process would have to restart with two public hearings. Those will begin in a special called meeting next Monday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m.
Two public hearings were also conducted at the latest meeting.
First up was a rezoning case for First Baptist Church of Covington (FBC). This rezoning calls for the sanctuary portion of the church to be rezoned from NR1 (neighborhood residential district 1) to TCM (town center mixed use).
The purpose of the rezoning is to allow the church to rebuild properly once the church is demolished and reconstructed. Members of the council recently overturned a ruling by the historic preservation commission to allow the demolishing and reconstruction of a new church on Nov. 6.
Additionally, the rezoning will allow all of the parcels held by the church to be under the TCM designation, as the remaining parcels of land already are under that designation.
FBC pastor Cody McNutt also took the time to share that there are no ulterior motives for the rezoning, but only for the betterment of the church and the community.
“From the church’s perspective, we just want to continue to publicly reiterate that we have no intention of selling our property,” McNutt said. “The church is intentionally doing this to cement our legacy in downtown Covington for the next hundred years.”
A condition was set in place so that the parcel is to only be used for accessory uses in addition to a place of worship. The motion was passed 5-1, with Floyd opposing.
Planning director Judy Johnson then delivered a presentation going over rezonings for numerous parcels in eight groups.
Billy Norton, owner of 11 parcels in Turner Lake Rd urged council to follow planning staff’s recommendation to take no action and to leave the parcels in group 7 as CM (corridor mixed use development).
Joshua Coggins spoke on behalf of Neely Farms LLC., and said that he has tendered a reservation of rights notice to challenge any action the board were to take on rezoning the properties.
All of the potential rezonings were set to be rezoned as NM (neighborhood mixed use).
The following were voted on after the public hearing.
Group 1: 21 parcels (with the exception of parcel C 035 0002 002) rezoned to NM (Neighborhood Mixed Use) : Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
Group 2: 21 parcels rezoned to NM: Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
Group 3: 19 parcels rezoned to NM: Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
Group 4: 19 parcels rezoned to NM: Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
Group 5a: 15 parcels rezoned/down zoned from CM to NM: Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
Group 5b: Three parcels rezoned/down zoned from CM to NM: Approved 4-2 (Morgan and Henderson opposing)
Group 7: 20 parcels removed from consideration for rezoning: Approved 6-0.
Group 8: Four parcels rezoned/ down zoned to NM: Approved 5-1 (Morgan opposing)
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PRESENTATION
A special work session was held just before the regular meeting to acknowledge the work of the community development team.
Community development director Ken Malcom spoke before the council and went over some of the highlights the program has had over the last few years.
Malcom said that “activity has increased tremendously” when it comes to events in Covington. There are currently 78 events scheduled for the 2023 calendar, up from 43 in 2022 and 22 in 2021. He also acknowledged the Visitor Center for reaching its 100,000th visitor this year.
During the presentation, Malcom acknowledged that the department has worked a significant amount of overtime and asked the council to consider adding another staff position to help with event coordination. The department is also seeking to rename from the community development department to the downtown & tourism development department.
Horton stated that since the items were not on the agenda, no action could be taken. He did, however, request that those items be considered in a future meeting.
The council voted on a number of other items during the meeting. Those are as follows:
Adoption of a final draft of the Capital Improvements Element. This is described by Ross as a precedent needed to adopt impact fees. (Approved 6-0)
A number of alcohol licenses (Approved 6-0)
Appointment of Leigh A. Knight to the historic preservation commission. (Approved 6-0)
Appointment of LaKisha Clements to the historic preservation commission. (Approved 6-0)
Appointment of Adam Holcombe to the planning and zoning commission. (Approved 6-0)
Re-appointment of Callie Carter Whitworth to the planning and zoning commission (Approved 6-0).
Re-appointment of James M (Buddy) Adams to the board of appeals and adjustments. (Approved 6-0).
An acceptance of a bid from Integrated Science & Engineering (ISE) to conduct a stormwater fee analysis for $48,050. (Approved 5-1; Morgan opposing)
An amendment to the current Eastside sanitary sewer project with Carter and Sloope to include work through the Wright’s Creek watershed. (Approved 5-1; Morgan opposing)
A budget amendment for the new bravo taxiway project at the Covington Municipal Airport in the amount of $113,000. (Approved 6-0)
An IGA between the City of Covington and Newton County in regards to a glass recycling pilot program. (Approved 6-0)
Discussion of “CO” parcels outside the city limits. This is in regards to parcels that are just outside the city line that have been receiving city services/utilities. No action was taken in this meeting.
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m.